Isolated human genes may not be patented, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday. The case concerned patents held by Myriad Genetics, a Utah company, on genes that correlate with increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
The patents were challenged by scientists and doctors who said their research and ability to help patients had been frustrated. The particular genes at issue received public attention after the actress Angelina Jolie revealed in May that she had had a preventive double mastectomy after learning that she had inherited a faulty copy of a gene that put her at high risk for breast cancer.
The price of the test, often more than $3,000, was partly a product of Myriad’s patent, putting it out of reach for some women. The company filed patent infringement suits against others who conducted testing based on the gene. The price of the test is expected to fall because of Thursday’s decision.
As we’ve covered before, this case has huge implications–not just for breast and ovarian cancer treatment but all our health. Last month, when Angelina Jolie wrote about getting a double mastectomy after genetic testing revealed that she’s at high risk for the diseases, it highlighted the fact that such testing is inaccessible for many. As Breast Cancer Action wrote in a statement of victory, “We urgently need more and better options for the treatment and risk reduction of breast cancer, and we cannot afford to have progress stymied by the monopolies that gene patents create.”
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